The Batman mythos has gone through numerous phases. There were the crazy angles and oversized props we grew up with in the 50's; fist fights on the keyboard of a two story typewriter. Then there was the disaster of the campy 60's TV show. This travesty put comics back a good 10 years.
In 1986, Frank Miller redefined Gotham and its dark defender by creating "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns."
In Miller's vision, our hero has been in retirement for ten years. The city has continued on a downward spiral, plagued by the senseless violence of a demonic youth gang called The Mutants. Dedicated to the psychopathic slice & dice, they've made Gotham into a hard place to live and a very common place to die.
Bruce Wayne has become an incipient drunk, in search of a glorious last exit. The story unfolds in the first issue as a brutal heat wave sears the city. As Wayne sees his world disintegrate, the Bat spirit once again rises within him, slowly taking over. He never sees it coming.
The heat wave is resolved by a monstrous thunderstorm. From out of the thunder, lit by Hell's lightning, a fearsome agent of good is reborn. The Batman has returned. Hear this and tremble!
Comics just don't get any better than this.
Frank Miller's stories are unique. He plays them out in a montage of video clips and slice-of-life portraits. Page after page of tiny panels are jammed with an incredible amount of information. "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns" is a very moral tale about a driven man who might be as psychotic as the criminals he opposes. There are many psychological twists to this tale. The effect this graphic novel has had on the comic industry is far reaching. Frank Miller has singlehandedly made "gritty" and "dark" the operative words in current comic book fiction.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns:
[Bruce Wayne, a child of six, fell into what became, in later life, his Bat Cave. There he confronted an avatar of dark justice, a demon bat...]
...Something shuffles. Out of sight...
...something sucks the stale air... and HISSES.
Gliding with ancient grace... unwilling to retreat as his brothers did... Eyes gleaming, untouched by love or joy or sorrow... Breath hot with the taste of fallen foes... The stench of Dead things, Damned things... Surely the Fiercest survivor -- the Purest warrior...
...claiming me as his own."
[Wayne, heading towards the Bat Cave, converses in passing with his butler, Alfred...]
Alfred: Your accountants wait in the West Wing, sir.
Wayne: Tell them I'm sick.
Alfred: Shan't have to lie. That Refugee Charity called...
Wayne: Write them a check.
Alfred: and the Committee for the Prevention of Obsessive Behavior in Middle-Aged Men?
Wayne: Write them a check.
Alfred: Very good, sir. Your sense of humor is keen as ever, sir.
[Superman muses about his estranged friend...]
"You were the one they used against us, Bruce. The one who played it rough.
When the noise started from the Parents' Groups and the Sub-Committee called us in for questioning -- You were the one who laughed...
...that scary laugh of yours...
"Sure we're criminals," you said. "We've always been criminals."
"We have to be criminals."
[Interview with woman on the street on the subject of Vigilante Violence:]
"You can say what you want. You can call him what you want. You don't have to walk down Avenue D at night. You don't have to hear the sucking sounds they make every time you walk by. This one. He'd been working the nerve up for weeks before he was horny enough...
...No, horny he wasn't. He was just looking to hurt somebody and he's the kind who hurts women. I wish they were rare. He gave himself an excuse...
So now he's giggling like he's turned on! I figure he's serious enough to run after me. I go for the Mace.
The creep's pulling out his weapon when there's this shriek. Straight out of Hell there's this shriek...
...It turns into a growl -- flapping of wings -- Big Wings --
-- Something Wet happens to the creep -- A side of Beef slams into the Lamp post -- a Switchblade snaps open --
Bones start popping inside the creep -- He's screaming and begging -
What grabbed him is laughing and so am I...
Interviewer: And the man who assaulted you?
Woman: Still in the hospital.